Similar to Burt Lancaster’s “Birdman,” Colman’s Divine G is a soft-spoken, meditative intellectual. Every six months, Divine G’s theater group—a team of incarcerated men at Sing Sing Correctional Facility, led by director Brent (Paul Raci)—chooses a new play to perform and new members to bring in. This time, they’ve chosen Divine Eye (Clarence Maclin), the prison’s drug dealer, to participate.
Maclin is among a cast composed, almost entirely, of real participants and alumni of RTA playing themselves. In his debut screen performance, Maclin is everything you want an actor to be: deeply felt, magnetic, emotionally and physically attuned. His star-making performance brandishes a soft touch for deep impact.
Casting is one of the many ways Kwedar opts for textured neorealism. The other is choosing to shoot on gritty 35mm, which adds tangibility to the prison surroundings (shot on location at Downstate Correctional Facility). It also works well with these performers. You can tell Kwedar and cinematographer Pat Scola (“We Grown Now”) love an actor’s face. They’re not afraid of a close-up or lingering on faces; they trust the battles and desires that can play across someone’s visage.
Much consumes Divine G: Divine Eye is challenging his place as the group’s preeminent actor; his clemency hearing is nearing; another tragedy strikes. The once mild-mannered, reflective man begins to crumble. Domingo is always a revelation, but with this character, he feels every space between words. It’s a necessity, not just because he’s the lead. But Kwedar takes care not to show trauma. The theater group’s practice room is safe, away from the dehumanizing guards and cells. Instead, the trauma that occurs is mostly psychological and internal. Every actor pulls their demons out for startling, effective scenes.
“Sing Sing” doesn’t want to solely see these men suffering; it wants to capture them spiritually free and physically unencumbered. The film’s best moments involve the men gripped by the excitement, escapism, and healing capacity of performance. It renders them as humans living through their art while composer Bryce Dessner’s quietly lyrical score wraps around their organically charged movements, boundless joy, and mutual love. Though the film has one false ending too many, “Sing Sing” is a redemptive portrait of theater’s power to heal, emancipate, and rebel.